Internal Consultants as Change Agents: Roles, Responsibilities and Organizational Change Capacity

Internal Consultants as Change Agents: Roles, Responsibilities and Organizational Change Capacity

35Buono and Subbiah

Internal Consultants as Change Agents: Roles, Responsibilities and Organizational Change Capacity

Anthony F. Buono, PhD Bentley University

Karthik Subbiah, PhD Dell Global Analytics

Anthony F. Buono, PhD, is professor of Management and Sociology and founding director of the Alliance for Ethics & Social Responsibility at Bentley University. He is also a

former chair of Bentley’s Management Department. Tony’s interests include organizational change, inter-organizational strategies, and stakeholder engagement. He has written or edited seventeen books including The Human Side of Mergers and Acquisitions (1989, 2003), A Primer on Organizational Behavior (7th ed., 2008), and, most recently, Facilitating the Socio-Economic Approach to Management (2014). He is editor of the Research in Management Consulting Book series (Information Age Publishing).

Karthik Subbiah is Senior Manager at Dell Global Analytics, Bangalore, India. Throughout his 16 years in the industry, he has been responsible for assessing organizational performance, studying competitive landscape, and

selecting, devising and deploying appropriate change initiatives to achieve advantage over competition. As a senior manager with Dell Global Analytics, he is responsible for providing business partners with key insights and recommendations for staying competitive and gaining competitive advantage in their domains. He has a PhD in engineering and an MBA in General Management.


While organizations often hire external consultants

(ECs) to assist them with change initiatives, the

use of internal consultants (ICs) also offers many

advantages and benefits. Although ICs have been

characterized as the “poor cousin” of their external

counterparts, they can be a vital organizational

resource through their ability to play multiple roles.

Drawing on experience as an IC and EC, the article

addresses IC roles and responsibilities and how they

can help organizations build their change capacity.


Organization Development Journal l Summer 201436


The current global business environment is

shaped by an array of factors and forces, including

globalization itself, liberalized trade and tariff

regimes, varied demographics, rapid technological

innovation, and competition from all corners of

the world. While these factors offer substantial

opportunities for businesses to grow and expand

their operations and/or market presence, they also

present unprecedented challenges. Diverse market

needs and the attendant explosion in product and

service variety, increased rates of product and

service obsolescence, and tremendous pressure on

pricing, to name a few, are creating myriad stressors

and problems for managers.

The basic reality is that as such change has

become the “new normal” (Jørgensen, Owen, &

Neus, 2008, p. 1), businesses increasingly compete

on the basis of their ability to change and innovate

on a continual basis, especially in comparison with

their competition. The capacity to manage change

has thus become a key strategic capability—and

an important component of this capacity is internal

expert support. Accordingly, this article focuses on

the role of the internal consultant (IC), an individual

who is on the payroll of the organization for which

he or she provides consulting services.

An underlying challenge concerns how to

most effectively manage and guide the change

Contact Information: Anthony F. Buono

Department of Management Bentley University 175 Forest Street Waltham, Massachusetts 02452 USA


Karthik Subbiah, PhD

Dell Global Analytics, India B-102, Tower 1, Adarsh Palm Retreat, Bhoganahalli, Bellandur Post Bangalore – 560103 INDIA


37Buono and Subbiah

and development process as many organizations

continue to struggle with change-related initiatives

(Barton & Ambrosini, 2013; Decker, Durand,

Mayfield, McCormack, Skinner, & Perdue, 2012;

Meaney & Pung, 2008; Raelin & Cataldo, 2011).

The dynamic capability to change and redefine the

business underlies the ability to respond to new

opportunities and/or to fulfill existing needs both

nimbly and accurately to the fullest satisfaction of

key stakeholders. The array of ultimate goals includes

facilitating committed employees, developing loyal

customers, generating increased revenue and stable

margins, and increasing investor confidence, public

goodwill, and organizational longevity.

Given the increasing number, frequency, and

complexity of such change initiatives, researchers

and practitioners point to the need to build capacity

for change (Buono & Kerber, 2010; McLagan,

2003; Soparnot, 2011), both in response to and

in anticipation of these changes. Similarly, it has

long been suggested that embracing organization

development (OD) based principles that promote

and sustain the change (Kolb, 1970; Worley &

Lawler, 2006) can help organizations develop the

ability to create timely innovations and adaptations

without creating “toxic” consequences for people,

processes, and the institution’s culture (Barnett &

Shore, 2009).

Many business organizations bring in external

consultants (ECs) to help guide and facilitate this

process, drawing on their expertise and insight

into change and change-related processes (Buono

& Jamieson, 2010). Although internal consultants

(ICs) have been described as the “poor cousin” of

their external counterparts (Sturdy & Wiley, 2011),

research suggests that a potentially more powerful

intervention is to combine the insights of ECs with

the experience base of ICs to overcome change-

related resistance and build commitment to the

change (Lambert, 1998; Savall & Zardet, 2009).

Indeed, as suggested by a post-hoc analysis of

why a change effort was not sustained, the internal

and external consultants involved in the process

emphasized different aspects of the situation and

change process (Noumair, Winderman, & Burke,

2010). Yet, the role and responsibilities of ICs in

change-related interventions are often overlooked

and understudied (Alfes, Truss & Gill, 2010;

Hartley, Benington & Binns, 1997; Sturdy & Wiley,


Internal consultants can exert a significant

influence on the development and augmentation

of an organization’s change capacity. Within

this context, an IC’s effectiveness is shaped by a

number of factors including the ability to analyze

and understand the environment, influence key

organizational players, facilitate learning, serve as a

mentor and role model for organizational members,

Organization Development Journal l Summer 201438

and select an appropriate change approach with the

intent of maximizing the probability of success for

the initiative and its stakeholders.

This article focuses on the role and

responsibilities of the IC in change initiatives, with

the underlying objective of understanding how this

role might enhance and augment an organization’s

capacity for change. The discussion draws on a

combination of field work as an internal and external

consultant and reflection on the management of

change and consulting literature. Beginning with a

brief discussion of organizational change capacity,

the paper examines the IC role and potential in

building and enhancing an organization’s capacity

for change.

Understanding Organizational Change Capacity

Researchers in the OD area call for the creation

of change-friendly and nimble organizations,

that is, organizations with an in-built capacity to

change (Klarner, Probst, & Soparnot, 2008; Myers

& Stensaker, 2006; White & Linden, 2002). An

underlying challenge is to design organizations and

their processes so that they are able to implement

and sustain change on an ongoing basis, in essence

surviving the barrage of changes characteristic of

today’s complex business environment (Buono &

Kerber, 2010; Kotter, 2008). As research indicates,

to have an enduring effect change initiatives

(e.g., problem-solving, brainstorming, continuous

experimenting) must be supported by a coherent set

Figure 1: Change Capacity and its Constituent Factors

39Buono and Subbiah

of organizational values and management systems.

This combination can create the basis for a capacity

for learning, commitment to continuous innovation,

and, in general, greater capability to change

(Leonard-Barton, 1992).

This ability has been characterized as change

capacity, in essence, the capability of an organization

to change not just once, but as a normal practice

in anticipation of and in response to changes in its

environment (Buono & Kerber, 2010; By, 2007;

By, Diefenbach & Klarner, 2008; Klarner, Probst

& Soparnot, 2008). A common theme across this

work is the conceptualization of change capacity in

terms of its core factors and their respective

indicators, which are depicted in Figure 1.

As illustrated in Figure 1, the organization’s

culture provides the foundation and supports and

encourages (1) open-mindedness, (2) a pluralistic

viewpoint on issues and matters of concern, (3) a

commitment to experimentation and learning, and

(4) the creation of a shared purpose among all

stakeholders. Change capacity is also dependent

upon organizational members who are (1)

knowledgeable about different change approaches,

(2) the contingency factors that lead to their

selection and deployment, and (3) who are able

willing to embrace and manage change. Finally,

the organization must have sufficient infrastructure

in place to support systems for training, learning,

knowledge sharing and experimentation, and

sufficient resources in terms of sponsorship, budget,

personnel, and mindshare required for successful

adoption of change initiatives. Collectively, the

interaction among these factors—culture, people,

and infrastructure—creates a learning environment

that enables the organization to draw on its

experiences, comprehend the nature and impact

of impending change, and prepare its response, in

essence, enhancing its change capacity.

Along similar lines, Meyer and Stensaker

(2006) define change capacity as the key to

maintaining daily operations while adopting change

on a continual basis. They postulate that developing

change capacity is the key for sustaining long-term

organizational performance in a global business

environment, especially one that is increasingly

unstable and often unpredictable, requiring agility

and flexibility on the part of organizations and their

members. The inability to balance the needs of day-

to-day operations with longer-term development

and improvement-related activities often prevents

companies from achieving their competitive

advantage. This inability, despite the intent of

the leaders of the businesses to develop a greater

capacity for change, stems from a host of reasons

that can be traced to short-sightedness and the

inability and/or unwillingness to operationalize that


Organization Development Journal l Summer 201440

The Role And Potential of the Internal Consultant

The term “consulting” discourages any

attempt to influence the course of a situation

without directly having the authority for the

implementation of the suggested course (Block,

2011). External consultants are hired by the client

organization based on a particular need or problem;

ICs, in contrast, are members of the organization

for which they provide advisory and support

services. An IC’s deliverables typically include

some combination of (1) recommendations for

intervention in such areas as policy, structure, and/

or procedures, (2) implementation plans that are

sensitive to the sociocultural and political realities

in the organization, and (3) the ability to transfer

knowledge to those who manage and/or do the

work (Bellman, 1981; Scott & Barnes, 2011).

External consultants may have similar deliverables,

but the ongoing, day-to-day interactions ICs have

with internal stakeholders provide opportunities

for greater levels of access and influence, being

“on hand” to assist those who have functional

Table 1: Benefits and Limitations of External and Internal Consultants (Adapted and developed from Miller & Subbiah, 2012)

41Buono and Subbiah

2011). For example, given their position within the

organization ICs typically have more insight into

internal systems, creating the ability to trouble-shoot

problems facing the organization and understand

changes in the broader environment as they relate

to potential opportunities (and challenges) for the

firm. They also have a greater opportunity to transfer

knowledge and mentor managers and staff, exposing

them to the current developments in the field, though

recent research (Sturdy & Wiley, 2011) suggests

that ICs often give low priority to such scanning and

dissemination roles. Internal consultants are also in

a good position to research and analyze non-crisis

situations, helping to generate recommendations for

improvement that would otherwise be overlooked

or ignored. Their role within the organization has

the potential to enhance operational effectiveness

and efficiency, guide strategic analyses and

assessments, and conceptualize and support OD-

related interventions. At the same time, ICs can

be biased due to their financial dependence on the

organization and concerns about internal politics,

“hot” issues, and their own career possibilities

(Kelley, 1979; Barnes & Scott, 2012), and ECs are

often in a better position to stimulate changes in

the ways executives think about their environment

(Ginsburg & Abrahamson, 1991).

and/or business responsibilities in implementing

recommendations (Bellman, 1981; Barnes & Scott,


Although this dynamic is beginning to change as

ECs are increasingly expected to go beyond providing

advice (Buono & Poulfelt, 2009), ICs typically play

a more active support role in implementation, even

if they have less direct control over the extent to

which their recommendations and project work are

carried out than they might like (Study & Wiley,

2011). In some instances, ICs can be thought of

as “internal outsiders,” especially when they act as

specialist staff, seeing their role as providing advice

to operational groups (see Sturdy & Wiley, 2011). In

fact, particularly in large organizations, there may

be a blurring of the differences between internal and

external consulting roles. External consultants who

work with a client for an extended period of time

can begin to take on many of the characteristics of

ICs through “constructive binding,” a combination

of intimate and strategic interactions, but these

activities typically go well beyond traditional

consulting roles (Untermarzoner, 2011). Key

benefits and limitations of using each of the two

types of consultants are summarized in Table 1.

In addition to being a readily accessible resource

that can provide expert knowledge, ICs can also

provide a range of services that often go beyond

those offered by ECs (Kelley, 1979; Scott & Barnes,

Organization Development Journal l Summer 201442

Internal Consultants And Change Capacity

The IC’s diverse roles and influence they can

exert on the development of organizational change

capacity are illustrated in Table 2. The Table

captures the various ways in which ICs, by playing

various roles, impact the core factors of change

capacity—people, structure, and culture. Internal

consultants often play the role of trouble-shooter

of minor and major problems that an organization

faces, in essence serving as an expert operational

resource. One of the co-authors who worked as an

IC for 11 years was often tasked with (1) identifying

and prioritizing key issues that impacted the bottom

line of the firm’s many business units on an annual

basis, and (2) determining and deploying the

methodology to resolve those issues. Thus, he was

viewed as a key resource to the operations of the


Internal consultants are also sensors of the

organization’s internal and external environment,

helping to create a foundation for sufficient

mindshare on issues of importance to the

Table 2: Illustrative Impacts of IC Roles on Organizational Change Capacity (Adapted and developed from: Buono & Kerber, 2010; Kelley, 1979; and Field-work)

43Buono and Subbiah

to support his request for the acquisition and use of

training resources, which were made available from

the corporate office.

Through their roles as coach and mentor, ICs

have the potential to impact the knowledge, ability,

and motivation of an organization’s people, helping

develop the part of its infrastructure focused on

training, education, and development. Again, in his

work as an IC, the co-author spent a significant part

of his time on training, mentoring, and certifying

150 “green-belts” and 6 “black-belts” in six sigma

methodologies over a span of 4 years. Reflecting

on this experience, he felt this role was significant

in developing both trained resources and the

infrastructure that were used to solve significant

business problems. Through these initiatives, the

organization gained knowledgeable and experienced

employees and developed a problem-solving

methodology that had added approximately 5% to

the annual operating margin of the organization

over the 4-year period.

Internal consultants can also be an

implementation supporter, either by being on hand

to assist those who have functional and/or business

responsibilities, helping to oversee implementation

of those responsibilities, and, in general, serving as

an operational resource. As an example, drawing on

our experience, ICs are often tasked with analyzing

and improving performance. The steps involved

organization’s success and survival. For example,

the IC co-author persuaded the leadership team

of the automotive division of the organization to

embark on a lean transformation initiative. Based

on his analysis of the changing marketplace, he

pointed to the reality that in order to continue to

successfully supply parts to Asian car makers that

were increasing their US market share, the firm

need to develop just-in-time (JIT)/lean capabilities,

which was a key consideration of the Asian

carmakers’ supplier selection process.

Engaging the organization as a researcher-

analyst, ICs can draw attention to non-crisis

situations, which are often overlooked or

ignored, aiding in the development of appropriate

recommendations for improvement. Within this

context, ICs can also play a vital role in helping

managers in planned interventions, such as action-

research efforts in resolving performance issues

and back-staging dimensions of the manager’s

and employees’ responsibilities (van Aken, 2004).

One of the IC responsibilities of a co-author was

to setup a database for capturing performance

from 27 locations from three global regions on key

operational metrics. The underlying objective was

to present the analysis to the company’s executive

team with recommendations for focused operational

excellence initiatives in areas that needed

improvement. He found this responsibility critical

Organization Development Journal l Summer 201444

efficient, and enduring manner. Compared to

ECs, ICs can respond quickly since they require a

shorter learning curve, which saves both time and

money for an organization. In addition, historically

most organizations have found that engaging ICs

to solve problems cost them approximately one-

third to one-half of the cost of external firms due to

lower compensation costs, development costs, and

overhead (cf. Kelley, 1979; Neal & Lloyd, 2001;

Nevo, Wade & Cook, 2007).

To be successful in such roles as trouble-

shooter, environmental sensor, and researcher-

analyst, consultants must have an intimate

knowledge of the organization and its internal

and external environments. As ICs are part of

the organization, they have the opportunity to

engage in such long cycle-time activities, where

ECs typically have shorter interactions (Kitay &

Wright, 2004). Similarly, the roles of coach and

mentor, implementation supporter, and advisor-

critic demand trust and credibility on the part of a

consultant, both of which require time, interaction

and experience. Again, by using their continued

presence and establishing daily contacts and/or

“face time” with the organization’s key players, ICs

are in a good position to successfully fulfill these


Internal consultants are also in position to

successfully help develop an organization’s change

in this situation were to: (1) identify the functional

areas related to the issue, and (2) work with the

heads and team members of those functions to

eliminate or mitigate the causes of the issues

through the development and joint implementation

of corrective actions. Such engagements have also

involved supporting and performing activities such

as task and resource analyses, redesigning value-

creating processes, restructuring organizational

configurations, and tracking performance


Finally, much like ECs, ICs can also serve in

advisor and critic roles, expanding the outlook of

key people in the organization with the intent of

helping them make more robust decisions. Within

this context, by drawing on their local knowledge

and insight, ICs can also provide a more critical

appraisal of initially appealing external “solutions”

that might not be a good fit with the organization for

a variety of reasons. If an IC is viewed by his or her

colleagues as having limited or outmoded expertise

or is unable to demonstrate ongoing value and the

capacity to extend their work to other parts of the

organization, their credibility and effectiveness

in these roles will clearly suffer (Sturdy & Wiley,


An IC, by virtue of being a part of the

organization, is able to fulfill the roles and

responsibilities discussed above in a rapid, cost-

45Buono and Subbiah

observers have noted, a waning focus on any of

these activities can undermine the change (Jamieson

& Armstrong, 2010; Mintzberg & Westley, 1992).

In examining why change initiatives often fail,

Mabey (2008) points to inadequate emphasis on

the structural, cultural, and procedural changes that

are required to sustain any initial gains. In essence,

successful change programs re-create and/or

reposition the organizational architecture, and ICs

can help align the ensuing roles, responsibilities,

and relationships (Beer, Eisenstat & Spector, 1990).

Insufficient preparation of key stakeholders, in terms

of shaping their perspective and their disposition

vis-à-vis the change, can result in widely different

interpretations and assessments of the change, which

can also result in self-interest overriding broader

organization interests (Kotter & Schlesinger, 1979).

Conceptualizing and Implementing Change


Reflecting on the role that ICs can play in

facilitating the development of an organization’s

capacity for change, it is also important to understand

the basic ways in which change can be approached,

especially from the standpoint of when they are

likely to be successful. The most straightforward

approach is change is to explicitly direct the change.

This approach is most useful when the problem

confronted by an organization puts its “performance

and survival at risk” (Kotter & Schlesinger, 1979),

capacity through the achievement of change-related

goals. Over time, as ICs succeed in engagements

through the various roles discussed above, they

establish a track record that can readily influence

the way they are seen in the organization, creating

needed levels of trust and credibility. An IC

colleague noted,

My main goal is to ensure that my clients

are successful and are seen as driving the

change. I don’t want to be seen as the hero,

that’s not important at all, in fact, it really

can be detrimental. The important thing is

if my client sees me as being helpful, that

what we have done together worked. That

is what creates trust and a foundation for

future work and development (Personal

Communication, 2009).

ICs are also well positioned to counsel their

colleagues against hasty adoption of pre-designed

solutions, which critics suggest are often offered

by external consultants (Kam, 2004; Maybe, 2008;

Pringle, 1998). Within this context, it is critical

that ICs devote sufficient attention to due diligence

with respect to the fit with the organization and its

timing. Internal consultants can also help ensure that

organizational members learn about and internalize

the change initiative by co-developing a vision as

to the relevance of that change for the organization

as well as a plan for its implementation. As many

Organization Development Journal l Summer 201446

Kerber and Buono (2005) refer to this approach as

“guided changing,” most appropriate in situations

that are characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity.

Mabey (2008) uses the term “stakeholder approach”

and calls for its deployment to reconcile “competing

values and conflicting agendas,” drawing on the

insight, expertise, and commitment of organizational


In practice, the distinction among these different

approaches to change typically blur along a change

continuum (e.g., directed change can develop

planned change characteristics, planned change

can involve guided changing improvisations),

which makes the role of the IC that much more

important. Each change approach can be relevant

for an organization based on key situational factors,

but due to their inherent features each of these

approaches to change has differing impacts on key

outcomes. Therefore, it is important to understand

when to adapt the change strategy, an assessment

that ICs are likely to be able to successfully carry

out given their experience and insight into the


As an example of the interaction among these

different approaches to change, one of the co-

author’s primary responsibilities as an IC was

implementing six sigma and lean production

methodologies. This assignment began as a directed

change, since projects were identified, selected,

and when the solution to the problem can be found

through “sound data and careful analysis” (Mabey,

2008), drawing on “business necessity and logical

arguments” (Kerber & Buono, 2005). McLagan

(2002) suggests the use of a directed approach in a

situation where a clear solution is found to resolve

the issue/problem and the probability of achieving

the predicted outcome is very high.

Planned change is typically used when the

change initiative covers many facets and/or is broad

and deep in scope, requiring a considerable amount

of planning to obtain and manage resources, engage

key stakeholders, and increase the probability of

success in achieving the sought-after objectives. One

of the driving forces toward this approach to change

is increased business complexity, which is related to

the extent to which a change cuts across horizontal

levels, work units and geographic locations, involves

reciprocal or team interdependence, affects a range

of products/services, and requires buy-in from key

stakeholders (Bennis, Benne & Chin, 1961; Cawsey

& Deszca, 2007; Kerber & Buono, 2005).

A different approach to change that is more

fluid in nature is reflected when a change initiative’s

outcome is unpredictable or even unknown, and the

“solution” to move forward from the current state is

unclear, requiring significant input, improvisation,

and innovation through the participation of many

stakeholders in both its design and implementation.

47Buono and Subbiah

ensure that the change is clearly communicated

throughout the organization, that organizational

members fully understand the reason, rationale,

and expected outcomes of the change (e.g., the

“so that” question—“We are changing X so that

we can accomplish Y”; Kerber & Buono, 2005;

Ulrich, Zenger & Smallwood, 1999). Key features

of a planned change approach typically involve a

combination of technical and political dynamics

and a medium to high level of participation

by stakeholders in early stages. In addition to

assuming a predictable causal relationship between

the planned actions and expected outcomes, this

approach can overwhelm organizational members

with its complexity and alienate key stakeholders as

a result of limited participation, resulting in reduced

acceptance level of the change initiative’s process

and solution (Buono & Kerber, 2010). Meyer and

Stensaker (2006) recommend the use pacing by

sequencing steps of the change initiative, using

the tempo of the change process to create energy

and momentum by combining fast- and slow-paced

actions. The ability to appropriately manage the

pace of a change initiative in this manner requires an

intimate knowledge of the organization’s culture, its

people, and their capabilities. As such, it also requires

a profound understanding of the core processes and

activities of the organization, something for which

ICs are well positioned (Schippmann & Newson,

and monitored by the executive leaders of the

organization based on their potential impact on

the bottom line. The actual implementation of the

lean production methodologies, however, required

participation from key stakeholders to elicit issues

with the current state and the nature and content

of the proposed future state, which required a

planned change approach. Working closely with

the human resources (HR) development function,

it also became clear that sustained implementation

of lean methodology (planned change) required

a simultaneous launch of a series of emergent

development-related changes (guided changing).

However, tensions between functional demands

(operational excellence) and corporate HR

undermined coordination of efforts and made the

objective of achieving sustained change difficult.

In such instances, it is clear that ICs must be able

to navigate underlying political and sociocultural

dynamics, going well beyond the technical merits

of the change program per se. It is important that

they are well positioned to emphasize, particularly

in their interactions with senior leaders, the need

for technical support (e.g., in the form of training

and skill development), political support (e.g.,

appropriate performance appraisal and reward

systems), and emotional support (e.g., facilitating

buy-in) if the change is to be successful.

With respect to directed change, ICs should

Organization Development Journal l Summer 201448

ECs were more likely to bring OD expertise to the

organization (Pinto & Noah, 1978), this dynamic

has clearly changed in recent years (Armenakis

& Harris, 2002). ICs, potentially in collaboration

with their external counterparts, are well positioned

to reflect on their past and current experience with

respect to organizational issues and concerns, and

conceptualize what needs to change, how it needs

to be changed, and how it should be implemented.


As change is the norm in organizational life,

developing change capacity that helps to maintain

daily operations while adapting changes on a

continual basis is vital to survival and long-term

success. Internal consultants, by fulfilling a diverse

set of roles, can help an organization develop that

capacity. Determinants of that success, however,

are embedded in a full understanding of the

organization, its technical needs, and its political

and sociocultural realities. By ensuring that

organizational members—from senior managers

to line-level employees—are knowledgeable about

the challenges and opportunities faced by the

organization, ICs can help to reduce the uncertainty

involved in the change process. Internal consultants

can help the organization develop and deploy an

approach that interweaves understanding of issues

and solutions, skill development, resource needs,

and infrastructure support, with interventions


When dealing with more organic forms of

change, key features include a higher level of active

participation of many stakeholders throughout its

design and implementation. This approach has a

high level of flexibility and requires considerable

learning on the part of stakeholders, who, in

essence, are conducting a series of experiments

given the uncertainty surrounding action items and

expected outcomes. An underlying danger is that

this approach could end up burning organizational

resources without any tangible returns—something

that ICs are better positioned to observe.

At the outset, prior to initiating any change

initiative, ICs should be positioned to help the

senior leaders of an organization create an open

environment where current and/or potential

problems and opportunities faced by the

organization are clarified and discussed openly in

terms of priorities and possible solutions. By being

an effective sensor of the organization’s internal and

external environments, ICs can facilitate the process

and content of open discussion by highlighting

the issues of concern to the organization and its

members. In addition, by effectively researching

and analyzing non-crisis situations, ICs can help

formulate and present recommended actions

aimed at achieving long-term competitiveness to

the organization’s leaders. Although traditionally

49Buono and Subbiah

of the organization to be seen as truly effective in

being objective and knowledgeable about industry

specifics and nuances, competitors and so forth?

Do most ICs have sufficient expertise in the array

of demands facing their organization to be able to

serve effectively in the consulting role? Is there a

difference between ICs and ECs in crisis vs. non-

crisis situations? Are there instances when drawing

on an EC is preferable or, as suggested earlier, where

some combination of the two is needed? What

are the characteristics of these situations? Future

research should attempt to answer these questions.

Ongoing attention to and research on the role,

responsibilities, and nature of internal consultancy

will help to more fully capture the impact these

individuals can have on both incremental and

transformational changes. This research effort can

also bring into focus the necessary support systems

that will increase the probability of successful

change. In doing so, we can further identify and

address the issues that prevent organizations from

achieving the potential benefits of their change



that provide social and emotional support for

organizational members and a facilitative culture

that supports implementation.

This article focused on the role of ICs in the

change process, exploring ways in which they can

facilitate change and enhance the change capacity

of their organization. The role of the IC is clearly

a dynamic one. With the ability to understand

the change challenges facing the organization,

internal consultancy is likely to play an even more

important and active role in the future. Although the

challenges faced by ICs will remain, if they build a

strong foundation that (1) enhances the probability

of success of a specific change initiative, (2)

develops and supports collaborative relationships

with key stakeholders, and (3) works to enhance

the organization’s change capacity, ICs can play a

critical—and successful—organizational role.

Myriad questions, however, linger with respect

to the overall effectiveness of ICs with different

types of change—particularly the difference

between transactional, incremental changes,

and more transformational changes that involve

organizational strategy and culture. Are ICs more

effective with incremental, continuous improvement

initiatives? Can ICs play an appropriate role as

expert/facilitator in changing the direction of the

organization in terms of its vision, mission, or

strategy? What does it take for an internal member

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